Tuco Salamanca’s (Raymond Cruz) role within Breaking Bad as the head of the Salamanca drug empire in Albuquerque is set up within season 5 of Better Call Saul when Lalo Salamanca (Tony Dalton) visits his uncle Hector Salamanca (Mark Margolis) in a nursing home. Season 5 of Better Call Saul answers a burning question by the end of the season finale: what happens to Lalo that prevents him from being in Breaking Bad?
Lalo has been running the Salamanca drug empire ever since Hector suffered from a stroke. Suspecting that Gustavo Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) holds a grudge against Don Eladio and the Juárez Cartel for the murder of his business partner Maximino Arciniega (James Martinez), Lalo keeps a close eye on Gus and disrupts the profits from his illegal business. To remove him from the equation, Mike (Jonathan Banks) ensures that Lalo is implicated in the murder of Fred Whalen, but Lalo proves to have many connections in jail. After Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) posts Lalo’s bail, Fring’s new plan is to assassinate Lalo once he flees to Mexico, but first Lalo visits his uncle to say goodbye and inform Hector of his replacement.
During episode 9 “Bad Choice Road,” Lalo explains to Hector that the police will be looking for him and he’s going to lie low in Mexico for a few months to a year until the heat dies down. Until he returns, Lalo states that Nacho (Michael Mando) or one of his other guys will bring him whatever he needs, not knowing that Nacho has been acting as Fring’s mole. As Hector appears angered by Lalo’s proposition, Lalo explains that there are still plenty of moves to make against Fring, one of which he can achieve while he’s in Mexico. Having Eladio’s ear, Lalo believes he can turn him against “the chicken man” and thus gain Fring’s territory in the process. Lalo also suggests that Tuco should take over their operation once he’s released from jail and that while he knows Tuco is hot-headed when he’s high, they can have someone ensure he stays clean.
As Lalo leaves, he kisses Don Hector on the forehead and gives Tuco one last endorsement as his successor when he says, “family is everything.” This exchange between Lalo and Hector not only introduces Tuco’s role in the first season of Breaking Bad, but it also foreshadows Tuco’s drug habit, which often causes his violent and erratic behavior first seen during the Breaking Bad episode “Crazy Handful of Nothin’” when Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) meets with Tuco to set up a deal as his meth supplier. Refusing to pay Jesse for the meth, Jesse attempts to terminate their deal when Tuco beats Jesse with a bag of money. Tuco’s drug habit is then essentially the birth of Walter White’s alias since this incident forces Walt to pose as “Heisenberg” in order to receive their payment.
While Lalo establishes Tuco’s future role in Breaking Bad, there are still a number of years left in the timeline before the two series overlap. Better Call Saul season 1 began in the year 2002, and while there have been four subsequent seasons, not all of them have lasted the equivalent of a full year. Since season 5 takes place during early 2004, even if Tuco is released from jail in eleven months, there is still approximately three years unaccounted for before Tuco is introduced in Breaking Bad during the year 2008. With this in mind, does Tuco run the Salamanca drug operation for three full years before Walt and Jesse become his meth supplier? Is Tuco briefly sent back to prison for violating parole? Does someone else take over the business in the meantime?
While these missing fragments of the timeline may be answered within the sixth and final season of Better Call Saul, one thing that is certain is that something must happen to Lalo that prevents him from keeping his promise to his uncle that someone will monitor Tuco’s drug intake. Based on Tuco’s stint within season 1 of Breaking Bad, it’s clear that Tuco was beholden to no other authority but his own.